Nagwa Ibrahim is an Egyptian-American filmmaker as well as an immigration and criminal defense attorney. When legal advocacy proved to be not quite enough to satisfy her creativity Nagwa went back to school to study film and after writing and directing several of her own short films, she launched WitNas Productions, a visual media company dedicated to connecting humanity beyond borders. She recently completed her first feature film, Woven, which premiered last week at the L.A. film festival. AFF’s Artistic Director and Festival Programmer Deana Nassar caught up with Nagwa to talk about her career and to share thoughts on her new film.
Deana Nassar: What made you want to become a filmmaker?
Nagwa Ibrahim: Growing up I always loved film and the way it can help you travel both by way of experience and geography and it wasn’t until I got older that I started to see the power of film to connect people across borders.
Film can create empathy and connection with people who might otherwise never connect. It can help us transcend the layers of our identities whether it be race, culture, sexual identity, gender or nationality.
To me the best films are ones that show the complexities of life. Especially films where you have the characters portraying both the protagonist and antagonist, that show the many sides of a person…which is what you saw in Woven.
DN: That’s a great segway to my next question, how did you get involved in Woven?
NI: I met Salome at a dinner party of a mutual friend. There was a connection between us right away both spiritually and creatively. She had been working on Woven for many years and was looking to bring on another female who also understood the nuances of navigating culture biases and identities. She invited me to join the team and the rest is history.
DN: What lessons did you learn during your directorial debut about tackling a feature film?
NI: For one, the importance of being present. What I mean is that you can have everything planned out to a ‘T’ but when you are working on a film, things don’t always go as planned, and the only way to maintain efficiency and sanity is to stay in the present moment. It’s in those moments of presence where your most creative solutions can come and I found that that would then translate on to the screen.
I also learned that to be a good director, you can not have a big ego. When you can allow for a true collaboration, let everyone do the job that they are there to do and trust in them, in that coming together you create the most beautiful and complete puzzle.
DN: Woven is centered around a first generation Ethiopian American woman, named Elenie, played by Salome Mulugeta. As an first generation Egyptian American woman how much did you identify with Elenie’s character?
NI: I think the themes of this film are universal. As a woman I connected with Elenie’s character and the pressure she had to get married. I think this is a common thing, and in general I think there is a pressure that most of us have to live according to how other people want us to live. Elenie had her own ideas on how she wanted to live and this was her struggle in the film, how does she keep a good relationship with her mother, whom she loves and respects and stay true to herself at the same time? It’s the journey to finding and listening to your own voice.
DN: How was the experience premiering at the LA Film Festival last week?
NI: It was awesome. It was like giving birth in public to a live audience. I had no idea how people were going to respond to the film but it was really nice to hear from people that they enjoyed the film.
It was especially nice that it premiered in LA because so much of the support for this film came from both the Ethiopian and Egyptian American community here, so it was great that they were able to come out and see the project that they invested in.
DN: What’s next for you?
NI: I’m in the process of developing a few projects and really I’m focused on finalizing distribution for Woven.
Check out the trailer for Woven below!